Those who discover these gentle offerings ask now and again what provoked the interest, the love, that led to them in the first place. Sometimes I think I’ve had a proper answer, other times I’ve reflected that perhaps I haven’t.
Over two years ago, when I opened this journal after having done similar elsewhere, I published an update of my original manifesto. And like many if not most writers confronted with an earlier exercise, I find it only slightly less comfortable to read now than I would to find myself undergoing root canal.
So I ask myself: What has changed in my thinking, if anything, since I first re-composed that schpritz?
1) I noted then: I’d been in radio during the 1990s—as a news anchor, news reporter, occasional sports commentator—for small, regional stations that wouldn’t have rated so much as a passing barb from Henry Morgan, who tended to save his ammunition for bigger armadas. I note now: In a few ways I still regret never having been an armada big enough to rate so much as a Bronx cheer from Bad Henry.
2) I noted then, too: I did get a crack at producing and performing a kind of old-time radio-style radio show of my own, in 2009. And, with two charming partners, I did get away with it for almost a year, until the lack of sponsorship meant I could no longer afford to produce and deliver the show. I note now: There are times I wonder if the prospect of us zapping actual sponsors, since we did include a lot of mock commercials in our weekly exercise, didn’t make prospective sponsors a little nervous.
(You’d have to go very far and very wide, I suppose, to find sponsors willing to take it the way Old Man Adler did with Henry Morgan, for a little while, anyway. But I have to admit it would have been a genuine kick if business at the Fremont Hotel & Casino was multiplying exponentially because people wanted to meet Old Man Fremont.)
3) Nostalgia still has nothing to do with this journal and the exercise thereof. When I was born, classic old-time radio was practically on life support. Forget my natural disinclination. It would have been downright fatuous for me to sit here pining for the good old days of—keeping to network radio’s actual known time frame beginning circa 1926—bathtub gin and Prohibition, the soup kitchen and the Crash, the Dust Bowlers’ Tour and Prohibition’s repeal, Roseland and the malt shop, Pearl Harbour and the canteen, D-Day and the island beach wishing Jennifer O’Neill had cradle-robbed me instead of Gary Grimes during the Summer of ’42.
4) Nothing else has really changed since then. I still listen to old-time network radio now the way I did then, and the way I did when the bite first took hold over a decade and a half earlier. Just the way this journal’s subtitle says. Standing athwart nostalgia, yelling “Art!” (And, incidentally, grateful to any and everyone who wrote me to correct a mistake or a missing fact or link. If only you folks had been around to fact-check those of the old radio commentators who were allergic to letting facts get in the way of a good rant.)
I meant it to be a kind of daily guide to old-time radio listening for those who love it as I do, for those just joining the happy company of listeners. Except that I haven’t always been faithful to the “daily” part of the mission. Part of it has been, well, there have been dates when no surviving classic radio could be found to examine and enjoy. Part of it has been, well, there have been days when I’ve felt, well, that I had nothing to say no matter how good I was at not saying it.
About the former, I’m noticing the gap is closing more and more each year. About the latter, well, yes, I’ve been a naughty boy. End of confession. And, probably, the book deal I don’t have yet. The one I was crazy enough to think might come out of this. The one involving a publisher being even more asleep at the switch than past radio program directors were for me. A publisher willing to let me put together a hardcover, critical (as in, from a critic, not from the fate of what’s left of the free world hanging in the balance) guide to daily old-time radio indulgence.
Either I’ve been terribly lax too often, or the publishers are getting less sleep with no desire to make up for it. The truth is definitely somewhere in the middle, but I’m not going to take any chances. There’ll be no No-Doz for them this year. Maybe a year from now I’ll have reformed sufficiently enough that a book based on this journal wouldn’t be as far fetched as a Fibber McGee scheme or a Lorenzo Jones invention.
One of the pleasant things about this passion and writing about it is the volume of books you fall upon in search of information that helps you come across as something more substantial than a blowhard ranter. One of the ones I’ve fallen upon is Out of the Blue, a collection of radio and television criticism by John Crosby, who had that job at the New York Herald-Tribune for many years. Nice work if you could get it?
The worst aspect of the job, I suppose, is the monotony. Nothing resists criticism so strenuously as radio. A radio columnist is forced to be literate about the illiterate, witty about the witless, coherent about the incoherent. It isn’t always possible. My drawers are stuffed with notes about programs which are neither bad enough nor good enough to warrant comment of any sort. They hover, those programs, in a sort of nether world of mediocrity and defy you to compose so much as a single rational sentence about them.
Very well, Mr. Crosby, I’m convinced. I hereby adopt the preceding blockquote as justification for my previous periods of laxness. (Anyone who thought I’d malaprop “laxative,” may the ghost of Jane Ace seduce you in your dreams tonight—undressed by Victoria’s Secret and wielding a meat cleaver.) And as my watchword not to let it happen again.
Because who still knows, gentle reader? Maybe there still might come a future radio script or two from these exercises. For a show that doesn’t yet exist. Except in the folds of my own (like Goodman Ace, I hate to use a four-letter word) mind. And, perhaps, yours, too.
OH, SCREW IT, LET’S JUST LISTEN TONIGHT!
The Goldbergs: Jake is Perturbed (comedy/drama; CBS, 1941)
Fibber McGee & Molly: Wallace Wimpole, Navy Physical Instructor (comedy; NBC, 1944)
Suspense: The Strange Death of Gordon Fitzroy (mystery/thriller; CBS, 1946)
Suspense: The Pit and the Pendulum (mystery/thriller; CBS, 1947)
Box 13: Double Right Cross (crime drama; Mutual, 1948)
The Fred Allen Show: George Jessel Tries to Sneak Into the Roxy (comedy; NBC, 1948)
Our Miss Brooks: The Sunnydale Finishing School (comedy; CBS, 1948)
Quiet, Please: My Son, John (fantasy; ABC, 1948)
The Whistler: Murder in Paradise (crime drama; CBS, 1948)
The Halls of Ivy: A Dinner Party; or, Professor Warren’s Romantic Folly (comedy; NBC, 1951)
Gunsmoke: Kick Me (western; CBS, 1953)
Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar: The Henderson Matter (crime drama; CBS, 1955)
The Couple Next Door: Thanksgiving Explanation (comedy; CBS, 1958)